Medical students returning from war zone stare at uncertain future

  • Even as thousands of medical students returning from Ukraine stare at an uncertain future, the National Medical Commission (NMC) is not favouring changing rules to absorb them in India’s medical colleges and universities

Priyanka Sharma
Updated11 Mar 2022
Operation Ganga: Indian nationals evacuated from war-torn Ukraine, on board a special Air India flight arrive at the Indira Gandhi International Airport.
Operation Ganga: Indian nationals evacuated from war-torn Ukraine, on board a special Air India flight arrive at the Indira Gandhi International Airport.(PTI)

Even as thousands of medical students returning from Ukraine stare at an uncertain future, the National Medical Commission (NMC) is not favouring changing rules to absorb them in India’s medical colleges and universities, a government official said. Instead, the medical education regulator wants the Union government to decide what could be done for these students.

There is no provision in existing rules to allow medical students from abroad to complete their studies in India. Those who have completed medical examinations abroad can, however, do their internships in India, provided they clear India’s Foreign Medical Graduate Entrance (FMGE) examination first.

“There will be no major amendment to absorb Ukraine-return MBBS students as of now. NMC will not take any such action. It is impossible to absorb almost 20,000 students. It is a huge number. There are limited seats in India, and if NMC plans to do an amendment now, then any medical student will return to India and demand a seat in Indian medical colleges,” the official cited above said on condition of anonymity.

Ukraine’s state-run universities providing quality medical education at low costs have attracted Indian students for years. After the Russian invasion on 24 February, the Indian government brought back most Indians from the country as part of Operation Ganga. The last batch of more than 600 students from Sumy reached on Friday.

“Our children are studying in Russia, Europe, and other countries. So, are we supposed to amend rules every time? The Ukraine crisis is a global issue. Let things settle down. However, the matter is being discussed. Now, it is up to the government to make any major decision or if they come up with some special provision in the near future,” the official added.

Recently, Lav Agarwal, joint secretary at the Union health ministry, said at a press conference, “These are tough times. Relevant steps will be taken by appropriate divisions in coming times.”

Meanwhile, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) has requested the government to absorb these students as a “one-time measure”. The association has also asked for a special provision to consider the transfer of such students to medical colleges in other countries valid. This, in turn, will ensure their eligibility to apply for NEET-FMGE. NEET, formerly known as the All-India Pre-Medical Test (AIPMT), is the qualifying test for MBBS and BDS programmes in India and is conducted by the National Testing Agency (NTA).

“The matter is under consideration,” said Dr Jayesh Lele, honorary secretary-general of IMA.

Queries emailed to a health ministry spokesperson remained unanswered till press time. NMC chairman Dr. Suresh Chandra Sharma did not answer phone calls and to a message on his cellphone.

“I am very apprehensive about sending my son back to Ukraine to continue his studies,” said Ramesh Srivastava, whose 23-year-old son Dikshant was a fourth-year MBBS student in Ukraine. “My son returned to India on 3 March and used to study at Odessa National Medical University. His university has started online classes for theory for now. But a doctor without practical training is incomplete. For next year, I don’t know what they will do. I wish the Indian government try to absorb such students here in Indian colleges.”

The official cited earlier, however, pointed to the option of those who have completed their final-year exams and passed the FGME exam to complete their internships in India.

Every year, thousands of Indian students join Ukraine’s state-run universities, which offer quality medical education at affordable fees. In India, students must pass the highly competitive NEET to join any medical institution. Also, private medical colleges are very expensive, which many students cannot afford. There are around 600 medical colleges in India, including private and government ones, with around 80,000 undergraduate seats.

“We need medical education infrastructure, manpower and other relevant things to accommodate all the students. For example, a medical college with a capacity of 200 seats —how can it absorb, let’s say, 200 more students?” the official wondered.

This comes against the backdrop of the Centre on Wednesday removing the upper age limit for NEET 2022, following a decision by the NMC.

In 2017, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) had recommended 25 years as the upper age limit for unreserved candidates and 30 years for reserved candidates.

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